Cisgender Heteronormativity and Why We Should All Learn Those Words

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All of the masked or blatant bigotry of our relatives who live a far enough distance to see rarely have become manifests of Facebook timelines. This cuts back on the number of chain emails that nobody under 50 ever wants to see in their inbox, but the content is not quite as easy as checking a box and clicking “delete” before even opening the message. There’s the option of hiding certain people from our timelines, but their comments on posts of people we don’t hide will show. We can skim past them and mostly ignore them, but the meme images -likely stolen from uncredited creators, written with incorrect spelling or poor grammar, or just factually inaccurate propaganda to reaffirm existing prejudices -will stick out, and we’ll be drawn to them and all the horrible things they have to say. People will share articles and posts from pages they follow that come with an attached image and synopsis that our fast reading eyes absorb even though we don’t try. If you have older, bigoted, or just ignorant relatives on Facebook, you cannot avoid this.

And just like internet interactions as a whole, you cannot use the medium through which they’re spreading their backwardness to explain to them what’s wrong with their behaviour. There’s scant a thing as effective internet debate to genuinely educate somebody and change their mind, so anything you say will be turned into a personal argument. Nobody has to actually read what you say in its entirety, if at all, before assuming their place in rambling the same position you’re calling them on. You have to be a very patient educator to get anywhere – even just convincing them to post less crap.

I will divulge minimal details of the story that links this to the title: a relative of mine who’s vocal about LGBT issues posted one of those dreaded images with text on it. It wasn’t an ignorant one; it stated facts that everybody should know, about the origins of gay rights movements and why there is no comparison between a gay pride parade and a straight pride parade. A mutual relative of ours, in the wee hours of the night, went on a multi-comment grammatical nightmare of misspellings, poor and insufficient punctuation, rambling non-sequiturs, and drifting off into irrelevant territory. There were pouts of victimhood for straight people who don’t like the term straight or wanting to be distinguished from LGBT people. There were I-know-a-gay-person (or at least someone presumed to be gay based on stereotypes and whathaveyou) excuses. There was defensiveness on how LGBT rights somehow seek to invalidate heterosexual marriages. A lot of these statements contradicted each other. The relative who posted the image eventually responded with “…I think you’re entirely missing the point.”

Caricatures of old people with homogenous social circles and no awareness of cultural change aside, there is a lot about the diversity of sexual and gender identities that escapes most people. There’s a significant blind spot covering the concept that difference goes in both directions. “Normal” is still too often used by people who are heterosexual or cisgender – especially the latter, which is a newer concept and makes people think about their own selves more than they’d ever be comfortable.

Heteronormativity is a scarier word than heterosexual. Even where acceptance of the LGB in LGBT is lacking, people are willing to use “heterosexual” to describe themselves as “not homosexual”. But the “heterosexual” they speak of is still synonymous with “normal”. It’s understood as more “natural” than same-sex attraction, and how things have always been and are largely meant to be. To have that view challenged is a punch in the face of people who stick their face in places uncomfortably close to unwelcoming fists of people who are not being listened to. Learn the word, and the meaning behind it: heteronormativity is a social concept that dictates people are straight until proven otherwise. Children are straight until they grow up to be gay. Animals are straight unless someone catches two males of the species fucking (two females are just sharing childrearing duties among their group). Heteronormativity is the background that nobody has to pay attention to. If there are two extras in a scene flirting with each other at another table in the restaurant, they are going to be heterosexual. If they were same-sex, that MUST have something to do with the plot. Otherwise they wouldn’t have put it in there, right?

Cisnormativity is even more deeply embedded, and it will take a lot of sitting and absorbing for most people to learn what this means and accept that it’s there. I am a cisgender woman; despite all of my off-path characteristics of not wanting romance, marriage, children, a beautiful garden, designer purses, or flowers every February, I still reflect on my identity and see that it matches my biology. I’m comfortable with the female traits of my body, and I don’t see a fundamental gender conflict with how people perceive and gender me and what I feel at the very base of my self. That is a privilege. I don’t constantly struggle with every mention of my name or when feminine pronouns are used. Being cisgender is part of my identity. It’s not the default or “normal” that most people see it as. Even those who want to be accepting and encouraging of trans* people to become their best might be sympathizing from the wrong angle. Treating it as an illness, instead of viewing it as a divergence of personal growth, excludes the use of the word “cisgender”.

If straight cisgender people were more aware of these blind spots and the barriers they reinforce for LGBT people, they wouldn’t get so outraged or say such prejudiced things on social media. Instead we’d, well, have to shake our heads at every other problem they are blind to. I was going to list a few examples, but I wouldn’t stop myself in time to maintain your attention. We have so many products of ignorance to disassemble. Just by recent example did this particular one come to mind. As a cisgender straight woman it doesn’t follow me everywhere I go, but every so often it pops up on Facebook.

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